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Ginger Beef (Calgary)

Hello Hounds. I apologize if I am putting my foot in my mouth on my first post (I have done a basic search to find a ginger beef thread in the past year and I cant find anything).

While I am not a particularly large fan of the Calgary invented, deep fried meat in syrup dish known as ginger beef, I would like some help finding some stand out examples of it. A good friend from Montreal recently moved to Calgary and although new to the city, he loves it, and our culinary contributions. His top pick for ginger beef so far is Silver Dragon. He also had the ginger beef at Ming years ago (it used to be quite good- I'm not sure anymore).

Where would you recommend I take my friend for great ginger beef?

(he is, sadly, not a big fan of drinking Caesar's- but I am, so that will be a future post)

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  1. Silver Inn - it was "invented" at this restaurant (originally called chili beef I believe), so you might as well try it there.... it's not as sweet or sticky as many other places.

    2702 Centre Street North

    If you go, try the sizzling rice, dumplings, hot and sour soup

    1. This is a weird suggestion, but the vegetarian "ginger beef" at Buddha's Veggie is delicious- more tender than a lot of pure laine ginger beef and probably a bit healthier.

      Even after 8 years in Calgary I still think that the best ginger beef I've ever had was at the Pilot Tavern in Toronto- which is not only not in Calgary, it's not even Chinese.

      1. I really like the Ginger Beef at Spicy Hut on Edmonton Trail.

        1. Thank you everyone. Alley- we went to the Silver Inn tonight and the ginger beef was great.

          This is a search for Calgarian food so it is both interesting, and predictable that there would be a strong Chinese relation, as Chinatown and Chinese culture is a big part of Calgary. It's interesting that you can't get ginger beef in China, but we call it Chinese food. It is interesting to me to think about Calgarian food. I wonder why we don't celebrate ginger beef like Montrealer's do smoked meat, and Philadelphians do cheese steaks. Why don't drunk kids eat it 3am (I guess some do, but really bad pizza is still dominant with hot dogs making a bit of a move). Why don't our fancy restaurants play with the dish every now and then? For example, if Michael Nobel opens 'Notable' I would like to see ginger beef on the menu. Yes, I don't really like the dish, but that's not the point. Plus if more people were trying to make really good versions of it maybe I'd like it more.

          I like the food at Spicy Hut for the price and we will visit it for ginger beef. We will try the veggie version at Buddha's too. I read about a place called Peking Peking that is supposed to be good- so my Montreal friend and I will eat a lot of ginger beef and I will write up some reviews.

          Here's what I thought of Silver Inn.

          We ordered a pretty standard set of 4 "white person" Chinese food dishes. Although I love to try 'authentic' dishes, we were there for regional Calgary Chinese. As per Alley's suggestion we ordered hot and sour soup, sizzling rice, dumplings and ginger beef. The food was generally tasty and well priced. This isn't high dinning at all- but that's not what we were there for. The restaurant reminded me, fittingly on fathers day, of going for dinner with my dad when I was much younger. I almost wanted to order chocolate milk, as it certainly would have come in one of those little yellow glasses. The sizzling rice came first. It was a bowl of maybe deep fried rice and the sauce was poured on by the waitress. It was way too much sauce so it was more like a soup. The shrimp were very tender and oddly translucent, but good. The sauce was basically 'Palace style' sauce. It was my least favorite dish.

          Next up were the dumplings and hot and sour soup.

          The soup was typical for hot and sour in that it was a bit too viscous. One thing that stood out was the liberal use of ground white pepper. Ground white pepper often tastes kind of stale and even dusty to me, but for some reason I also like it. The two strong flavors of the soup were white pepper and salt, not hot and sour, but it was pretty good.

          The dumplings were salty and juicy. The dough was a little gummy. They weren't ultra fresh, but they were fresh and the meat in them was nice. The chili oil and vinegar they came with were both good too. I prefer stronger vinegar with sliced ginger though.

          Last up was the ginger beef - it was really good. Not overpoweringly rich, but almost light and rich. The meat was a little crunchy at first bite, not over coated at all. The next flavor was butter. The meat was the good kind of chewy- chewy that still breaks up. The best surprise though was the sauce. Where normally I expect something close to straight corn syrup, this sauce was nicely thin and balanced with vinegar and a little chili. It was still very sweet, but not as sweet as most. This is a ginger beef that is cared about. It acknowledges that white people like meat, deep fried things, and sweet things, but does not go totally overboard with it. When I was eating the ginger beef I thought it might not be gingery enough, but then I got a nice to get a little chunk of ginger. For subsequent bites I searched out the bits of ginger.

          There are lots of interesting write ups about Silver Inn and ginger beef at the entrance to the restaurant and I got a bit of an education on the way out. The staff were business like, probably overworked, but clearly good people who care about their customers and their restaurant.

          3 Replies
          1. re: Mawson Plan

            Mawson- thanks for the report!

            I find your discussion about "Chinese food" really interesting. Part of becoming a "chowhound" is a stage wherein you are taught to denigrate local (especially North American) versions of "Chinese" because of its inauthenticity- but I think that becoming a TRUE chowhound and not a poseur entails learning that every country has its vernacular "Chinese" and they're all interesting and as varied as the countries themselves. There is nothing at all wrong with enjoying a particular country's spin on it, aside from it sometimes being less than healthy, but all things in moderation and all that...

            I also think it behooves the chowhound to understand a bit about the cuisine's history and to understand that this dish (Calgary ginger beef, for example) is part of the history of the Chinese diaspora. It's CHINESE and reflects the adaptability and resourcefulness of Chinese people and their culture, something to celebrate and take seriously. What's unfortunate are people who EQUATE ginger beef (or in the states things like twice-cooked pork or crab rangoons, "Chinese" things I cannot find in Canada) with "Chinese." But equally sad are those who refuse something on the basis of its lack of authenticity when what they are doing is ignoring an "authentic" aspect of the Chinese diaspora and an important little nugget of history.

            1. This is a really good post, thanks.

              It's been a while since we've been to Silver Inn so I should go back to compare but I like the ginger beef from Ginger Beef because it tends not to be overcooked or too chewy.

              A ginger beef comparison safari sounds like it might be a fun idea.

              1. I just got back from Peking Peking and it is not very good. It was the type of Chinese buffet I would expect to find in a casino.

                This quote from about.com came up on a search I did: "A well respected Calgary-based chinese food connoisseur, currently working in Alaska, believes the best Ginger Beef can be found at a small Calgary establishment in Riverbend aptly named "Peking Peking". While the afforementioned connoisseur will not be working in Alaska in the future, his replacement definitely agrees that, "Nobody does ginger beef like Peking Peking".

                This quote makes no sense for a few reasons, mainly- the food is not at all good.

                3 Replies
                1. re: Mawson Plan

                  A lot to take in....

                  MP, I'm happy that you tried Silver Inn, I have been there for some family dinners and it can be fun, and it is definitely a showplace of "Calgary-Chinese-style" food.

                  I definitely agree with the recommendation for the ginger beef at Spicy Hut (it has a different name I think, but it is quite tasty, if I remember right it comes with carrot strips and some chili sauce on the side, or maybe that's another dish at Spicy Hut, which you should try), and John Manzo's suggestion of Buddha Veggie is enough to make me finally try it out: this is the third recommendation I have had for this place, and, while as a "reformed" (long-time former) vegetarian turned unrepentant carnivore I have been hesitant to check out too many of the local veggie places (out of guilt? or fear?), I will finally commit.

                  BTW I have ordered from Peking Peking, it is close to where I live (hungry, hockey game on, don't feel like cooking or pizza...), it's passable but certainly not exceptional, and similar to what's served up from many of the neighbourhood Chinese restaurants, it is prepared too sweet, not spicy, and swimming in sauce.

                  I'm also intrigued by the idea of a ginger beef comparison safari as suggested by sharonanne.

                  MP, your suggestion of refined, top-end ginger beef as a local dish is excellent. I have tried the poutine for example at Au Pied de Cochon in Montreal, which was sublime. Why shouldn't one of the top chefs here attempt to raise ginger beef to the same level?

                  Finally, John, I would like to follow-up on your reference to double-cooked pork. I was introduced to this dish by a Chinese friend born in Hong Kong, when we were working overseas in Italy and found a simple and very Chinese restaurant in Milan. This dish (called twice-stirred pork in translation from both Cantonese and Italian) was one of the dishes my friend selected and I assumed it was not a westernized dish (he is generally a very fussy eater and not usually interested in westernized dishes which makes it hell to find some place to eat in a place like Milan...., but maybe he was humoring me) and it was quite tasty, as were the rest of the dishes we had (we ate there a few times). I have only found twice-cooked/double-cooked pork in Calgary at Leo Fu's where it is quite different (too much sweet sauce: I have found Leo Fu's to have some good dishes, but you have to be selective, and often ask them to cut back on the sauce). Where does double-cooked pork come from?

                  1. re: alley

                    Thanks Alley! My quest for ginger beef has had to stall for a bit. A good Korean friend who I went to Koreana with recently (it was quite good!) is having a home cooked Korean BBQ tonight. Yum. I'm about to head out to buy some Shōchū for it (I couldn't find a place that sells Soju, so I'll keep looking...).

                    Anways- I wanted to say that this ginger beef hunt is making me feel like Morgan Spurlock. It's hard to have a lot of ginger beef repeatedly and Peking Peking slowed my enthusiasm a bit...

                    I have been to Buddha Veggie before. It is a really nice calm place, especially considering the cars whirring by outside. They suggested I get the veggie pork ribs. They were quite good and I could see a vegetarian who loves the taste of pork ribs (?!) really enjoying them. Real pork ribs are better though so unless you just want to see what the deal is I would suggest not taking them up on it because you should save room for the other dishes, which are quite good. I'm looking forward to trying the meatless ginger beef there tomorrow.

                    I'm looking forward to your help finding a bit of a consensus on finding top versions of this important part of Calgary food heritage!

                    1. re: Mawson Plan

                      Good luck with the Soju/Sochu quest. I would think Willow Park might have something?

                      BTW I have tried Koreana a couple of times since it opened, so far so good, it is close to where I work so I have high hopes it will succeed.

                2. mawson your quest has awakened new appreciation for ginger beef in me- and today I had a delicious example: King's on 17th Ave SW, next to Midori- just decadently delicious! Tender and a a sauce that's sweet without being cloying- loved it!

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: John Manzo

                    Thank you John. I really want to see this Calgary claim find its zenith. I still don't know how I feel about candied deep fried flank steak slices overall, but I know it can be a great dish, just like anything can if done right. I'll try Kings. I think I'll keep on this thread for a month or two though trying these picks and searching. I feel like its important somehow. A good chef I know was saying something the other night about how corn starch can break down the connective tissues in beef and it spurred a realization that maybe the best ginger beef will be the one I cook. On a side note- my Montreal friend and I went to Spicy Hut today but we eat at odd hours and missed the lunch. So we went to a Jamaican place in a nearby strip mall. The illustrious Chris Koentges (a good friend) had reviewed their ginger beer so I bought some. Chris says it's pretty good. I'll wait to try it, but I trust him for the most part. The jerk chicken was quite good, but my friends roti looked better. The place was called Joycees. It was full of Jamaican people and it was a really nice vibe. They had all kinds of cool Jamaican stuff that I have never seen before. They also sell ripe plantains (and those are pretty had to find consistently but, as I'm sure all true hounds know, are amazing fried in butter).

                    1. re: Mawson Plan

                      Try Joycee's brown stew chicken, it will remind you of ginger beef, sort of...

                      I've always loved their roti (from "Joy's" days)- moved here from Toronto w/ my Trinidadian partner and in TO I learned to only get roti at Trini or Guyanese places, so finding a really good roti at a Jamaican place was a bit of a revelation and it didn't feel like "slumming" at all- of course the roti tastes best at Folk Fest!

                      1. re: John Manzo

                        Hi fellow Chowhounds,
                        Mawson Plan's ginger beef-loving Montreal friend here (as fun as the safari is, eating it every day sure tests my love of it, hoo-boy!). Though I'll weigh in on the ginger beef issue very soon (I'd like to get a few more in me before comparing), I just wanted to say that the roti at Joycee's was indeed very good, if a little crumbly/dry -- the fantastic hot sauce did the trick, however!

                        Sorry if my first post is so off-topic, but I had to pipe in on the roti front: in Toronto, Gandhi Roti is an absolutely delicious East Indian take on it -- and if you dare order the 'hot,' you'll be rewarded with a really flavourful and satisfying heat! And, in Montreal, John Manzo is absolutely spot on with his Guyanese-recommendation: Jardin du Cari's chicken rotis (to be ordered WITH pumpkin!) are quite possibly my favourite home-town meal.

                        Anywho, I'm just very happy to have found a Calgary roti that is quite fantastic, if not precisely what I crave...

                        1. re: Shots Stantinople

                          Shots, the roti at T and T Organettes Social Club is excellent. Roti Hut in the NE I know nothing about since I had a bad experience there the very first day I landed in Cgy- I need to go again needless to say.

                          Sadly, I don't know anyplace in Cgy that does pumpkin and I do miss it!